Directed by Bruce “Pacho” Lane
Shot in Kabul, Herat, Kandahar, Spinbuldak, and the Afghan countryside in 1987, this film is a look at the *other* side of the war in Afghanistan – the Communist government and its supporters.
Inside Afghanistan opens with an examination of the war as seen by the Afghan army. After a ride with an armored column transporting supplies from the Soviet border. We have tea with an Afghan captain, his Russian wife, and their two sons, as he explains the bond he feels with the other Afghan officers who trained in the Soviet Union. An Afghan colonel explains how these Soviet-trained army officers led the “revolution” that brought the Communists to power. At a tank training ground, an officer extols the “revolution”.
The documentary then looks at the educated, urban modernizers and reformers who saw the “revolution” as a way to bring Afghanistan into the modern world, even if on the Soviet model: women teachers and medical students, doctors at a children’s hospital, boys at a Soviet orphanage, government officials, party members, and a rare interview with then- President Najibullah himself.
Afghan Refugees Return
The second half of the film moves to the countryside, where we visit several groups of villagers who had left the Mujahedin and were fighting on the government side under the same khans (clan landlords) who earlier had led them in their fight against the government. In a peaceful village square, a group of villagers discuss their needs, unaware of the camera, while in another village a government propaganda team entertains and passes out gifts. Under attack by Mujahedin at a remote outpost, we go to the nearby artillery base, which responds with a devastating barrage of rockets and howitzers. In the Kandahar prison, we meet two Taliban POWs, who in spite of torture tell us courageously that they still believe they were right to fight. Finally, at a meal in his home, the governor of Kandahar province breaks down in tears as he tells us of the deaths of his sons in this long and bloody war.
Inside Afghanistan underscores the chasm between the urbanized, Westernizing supporters of the Communist government and the traditional Muslim world of the villages, still based on clan and feudal ties. Without preaching, the film breaks the stereotypes of Communist “puppets” and heroic “Freedom Fighters” to give the viewer a new understanding of the tragic and complex struggle for change in Afghanistan – a struggle that is far from over.
TV: US (PBS)
“Inside Afghanistan” & “The Black Tulip” are available on a single DVD,
playable on all Region 1 (US & Canada) & Multiregion DVD players.
How This Film Came To Be Made
INSIDE AFGHANISTAN is a 56′ minute program on the Afghan civil war in 1987. I shot the film in Super-16 in Kabul, Herat, Kandahar, Maiwand, on the Pakistan border, in seven villages around the country, and at an orphanage and a medical school in Tashkent. It is not only the sole documentary on the Afghan communist side of the war, but it shows how the war looked to the Afghan middle class, to educated Afghan women, to the army officers who led the Soviet-inspired “revolution, and to the khans (“feudal landlords”) and villagers of the Afghan countryside. The film includes an interview with two captured Taliban guerillas in the Kandahar prison, as well as a Mujahedeen attack on an Afghan army outpost, and a rare public interview with then-President Najibullah. The filmed aired on PBS in 1988, and has been widely used in Central Asian studies courses.
While the film was made with the active paricipation of Novosti Press Agency, I had complete freedom to film anything I saw and to give my own interpretation to what I saw and filmed. I gave the Novosti staff in Kabul a list of subjects I wanted to film, and they worked very hard to meet my requests. Their privileged access to the Afghan communist government, and their considerable journalistic experience in the country, gave me the opportunity to film extraordinary footage. For example, I wanted to film Mujahedin groups who had turned sides and were now fighting with the government. We visited and filmed such groups in four different villages as well as at an outpost of a local “warlord”. The guerillas were completely candid about their feelings. I asked one group of young Mujahedin, for example, what they were fighting for. They replied that they didn’t care: they just followed their khan because he was a good fighter and a good Muslim. For me, their response sums up not only the Afghan tragedy but the deliberate American misinterpretation of it.
INSIDE AFGHANISTAN shows clearly the deep split in Afghan society between the small educated, urbanized, “westernized” segment of the population who provided the bureaucrats, army officers, teachers, and doctors, and who aspire(d) to a modern, secular, developed society, and the feudal world of the countryside with its traditional Central Asian version of Islam. As an Afghan army colonel acknowledged (for the first time) in the film, Afghan army officers educated in the Soviet Union saw how “backward” their country was, and seized power in an effort to modernize Afghanistan. Tragically, they first attempted to force change by top-down “revolutionary” methods, rather than by slower, gradual development.
Rural Afghanistan is a clan-based feudal society. The khan is both landlord and clan leader, with mutual ritual obligations to his tenants. The Afghan saying is that “the khan’s table is always spread” – i.e., he is obliged to care for his “subjects”, who in return owe him fealty – and the lion’s share of the harvest. In such a society, the concept of “Freedom Fighter” makes no sense, as my young Mujahedin pointed out. However, it also made no sense to expropriate the landholders, because this undermined the entire social fabric of the village community. The result was civil war, between the “communist” modernizers and the “Islamic” traditionalists. The situation very much parallels what happened in Iran when the Shah, with American participation, tried to force that country to “modernize” – except that there was no Afghan Khomeini
The Russians now, like the Soviets in the 80’s, have a vital interest in the future of Afghanistan, just as, say, Americans have in the future of Mexico. In retrospect, and as they told me at the time, the Soviet decision to intervene militarily was primarily to maintain stability on their Central Asian border, not to expand their empire. The United States and Pakistan, however, saw the Soviet presence as a threat, and reacted by supplying arms and training to favored groups of “Freedom Fighters”. The result of these two interventions has been the longest, bloodiest, and certainly the most brutal, civil war of the twentieth century – still with no end in sight. True, the American intervantion succeeded in driving the Taliban from power. But, just as after the withdrawal of the Soviets, the US has failed to accept the challenge of nation building. Instead, the country has been once more divided between brutal warlords vying for power.
When I watch INSIDE AFGHANISTAN today, I think of the fate of the many “modernizers” I filmed: the Afghan captain, his Russian wife, and their two wonderful little sons; the Afghan party member and his family who says he will die fighting rather than leave Kabul; the young woman teacher in the girls’ school who says that as a good Muslim she believes Islam stands for the liberation of women; the women medical students in Tashkent who plan to return to their country to improve its medical system. I think of the khan who brought his village back to the government side, and was assassinated a few days after we filmed him, and I think of the governor of Kandahar, who invited us to eat at his house, then broke down in tears on camera as he told us of the deaths of his family in this endless civil war. Most of all, I think of the two captured Taliban leaders, who, when I asked them if they still felt what they had done were right, answered that, yes, they were right – knowing as they did so that their jailors were hearing every word and would make them pay when I left.
So many good people. So much senseless killing.